PUBLISHED: 13:15 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 10:00 23 April 2012
As I write this (end of November) much of the leaf has fallen from the trees, and there is a real nip in the air most evenings, signalling the onset of winter.
By the time you read this the shooting season will be over but currently we are doing very well with our wild stock and I really can';t complain about the season so far. The woodland is continuing to disappear on a regular basis but the birds are settling back into previously cut woods, although how long they'll stay in an area with so little shelter when the weather really gets cold only time will tell.
Woodland visibility is improving every day as the leaves continue to fall, meaning that squirrel shooting and roost shooting woodpigeons has become a little easier. It was with this in mind that, on a lovely sunny afternoon, I decided to have a quiet walk around some of the woods and see what was going on with the ever-present squirrel population. Its very easy to tool round the estate all the time in the Landy, and when there are loads of jobs to be done then this is obviously essential, but I do still like to take time out when I can, to go round the estate on foot.
When driving everywhere its so easy to lose touch with whats going on in the woods, and by walking round at least every few days I can keep tabs on vermin and bird movements, allowing me to switch locations for traps and keep in contact with new fox runs etc. Also, I can immediately see any signs of human presence within a day or so of it happening, allowing me to be in the right position to collar the culprit and stop it happening again.
Spring in the air
I decided it would be rather nice to take the TX200 out for a bit of an airing as I had been using pre-charged pneumatics pretty much exclusively all season. I love spring guns and can never understand the view that they are not as good for hunting as PCPs. The fact is, they are every bit as good; they are just not as easy to shoot! Very few people who come to my airgun academy have spring rifles and in fact mistakenly look down on them. When questioned, the inevitable reply is that they were advised by members of their local club to forget about a springer and get a PCP.
I wonder how much of this ill-informed advice is based on actual experience of shooting springers and how much is just regurgitated as a matter of form because thats the general opinion. Dont get me wrong I think pre-charged rifles are great and I use them all the time, but in my opinion starting on a PCP is all well and good if that is all you ever intend to shoot, but a spring gun will teach you how to shoot just about any rifle you pick up, and shoot it well.
The hold and stance required to handle a spring guns recoil will stand you in good stead should you need to shoot centre fire calibres. The beginner who has only ever shot a PCP will be at a loss on a spring gun or any other rifle that requires the correct knowledge and technique to handle recoil. Im sure there are many out there who will disagree with me on this subject, but I cant help that; its my view, plain and simple.
A walk in the woods
I slung the TX over my shoulder and tipped 20 or so pellets into my pocket (yes I know you shouldnt do that but its something Ive always done), and set off for a walk round the closest woods. Arriving at the first ride, I moved slowly toward a slight bend that hid my approach from anything further on up the ride, feeling where I put my feet in order to avoid snapping twigs and giving the game away. This is why I like to wear soft-soled footwear when stalking rather than the thick-soled, ankle-length boots that seems to be so popular for some reason. The sound of an unseen rabbit fleeing through the wood made me start for a minute as it made enough noise through the fallen leaves to have been an elephant. Composing myself, I carried on and slowly stalked round the bend in the ride keeping as low as possible to avoid creating a silhouette and only moving when I was sure no alert eyes were on me. When I am wandering like this I like to stop every now and then and just sit up for a few minutes, to watch and listen. Sitting quietly and just observing what is going on around you can present some very good opportunities that you otherwise would have missed, and if you listen carefully, quarry can very often give its position away unaware that you are within earshot.
All of these things increase your fieldcraft and general hunting knowledge and will ultimately put more in the bag. On this particular occasion, however, a ten-minute ambush produced absolutely nothing and so I moved on further through the wood keeping my eyes and ears peeled.
Near the middle of this wood is a crossroads where several rides converge and it was as I was approaching this location that my first half-decent chance presented itself. There in the longish grass on the edge of the ride some 60 yards in front of me was a squirrel, no doubt scuttling about looking for the now fairly elusive acorns. Keeping my eyes firmly fixed on my quarry, I began a slow stalk keeping a tree trunk between me and the squirrel, the latter appearing every now and then as it continued to search for food.
Eventually, I carefully rounded the tree and using the trunk as a rest, I brought the TX to my shoulder and dropped the crosshair on the squirrels head as it sat up and gnawed on an acorn, expertly turning it round and round in its paws. Making sure that the TX was resting on my hand and not the trunk, I slowly took aim and carefully released the shot. As the pellet found its mark, the squirrel leapt into the air and lay kicking on the ground scattering fallen leaves in every direction.
I remained motionless, save for re-loading, and left the squirrel where it lay while I scanned the surrounding area in case the sound of the shot had moved any other quarry. Sure enough, from further in the wood another squirrel bolted across the ride and ran halfway up the trunk of an oak tree opposite me offering a perfectly safe shot which I immediately took and squirrel number two crashed to the ground.
Feeling rather pleased with myself, I collected the squirrels and made my way to one of my favorite rabbit ambushing spots on the other side of the wood. In this particular spot the woodland floor is much higher than the field it overlooks, so the usual tactic is to sit with my back against a tree and look down on emerging rabbits as they leave the safety of their burrows to feed. This puts me above and behind them, and in the perfect position to snipe them before they know Im there.
I found myself a nice spot where the sun made its way through the canopy of remaining leaves. In these situations shooting becomes a secondary consideration as I was just as happy to be sitting there in the sun listening to all the woodland sounds, even if I didnt fire another shot all day. I was occasionally looking in the direction from which a rabbit might be expected to emerge, when a movement caught my eye. In the field below me and to the right I could see a black shape moving along the edge of the wood. I could just make out an outline, and at first I thought it was a pheasant, but an instant later I realised the shape was in fact a carrion crow hunting up the side of the wood below me. As the crow emerged from behind the cover I kept totally still, hardly daring to breathe, knowing my only chance was for it to go past me, allowing me to be behind and above it where maybe, just maybe, its incredible eyesight would be slightly impaired.
Not daring to move a muscle, I watched the crow pick its way past me until eventually it was in the safest position to allow me to raise the rifle. I had a classic sitting position which gave me a solid and secure rest but still allowed me to use a very lose grip (you must always use a very relaxed hold with a spring gun so you dont interfere with its natural recoiling motion), and the fore end was just resting on the palm of my left hand. At around 35 yards, the crow was in the perfect position for a shot between the shoulder blades and I began to get my breathing ready for the shot.
As I gently squeezed the trigger, I watched the bird collapse, and this was a massive bonus; that one shot made the whole trip worthwhile. Again, I left the crow where it lay in the hope that it would act as a decoy to any other passing corvids. I didnt get another chance at a crow but a lone woodpigeon planed into a stand of trees 25 yards to my left and offered a safe and easy shot, which I fluffed in spectacular style through, I think, over-confidence.
I decided to circle my way back and headed off once again at a slow pace, pausing every now and then to take stock of the area. Another squirrel fell victim to the TX and another one was missed, but it wasnt ever about a huge bag. Trapping is taking far more squirrels than I shoot at the moment. Its about pure enjoyment and staying in touch with whats happening out on the land. I found two new fox runs that would have remained a secret if Id been in the Landy and I gained vital information about pheasant numbers in the area, and that alone was worth the trip.
Well thats it for this month; enjoy the winter hunting, whether you shoot a springer or PCP, have a happy New Year, and remember, as always, stay safe.